Moving Toward a “Whole-Earth Jubilee”

earthjubileeOn October 24 people around the world will be observing the First International Day of Climate Action, hosted by Bill McKibben’s

Right now, as the world prepares for the international climate change meeting in Copenhagen in December, the world lacks one thing to save itself: political will. We have the technology to make appropriate changes. But political will is forged through moral vision and religious persuasion brought to bear by a diverse set of grassroots actions. And grassroot action requires you.

For Christians, part of our mission in the world is to bring religious imagination to bear on the crises of our day. Climate change is one of the most critical crises of our day.

Thanks to Tim Kumfer over at Always New Depths for posting his short essay written for his Ecofeminist Theology and Philosophy class at Duke responding to this question: What resources exist in your religious and/or spiritual tradition for thinking about ecological crises like climate change, pollution, scarce resources like water and food, and species loss?

Here’s part of Tim’s response, but I encourage you to read the whole thing and consider what resources you draw on for shaping religious vision. Also, what fun and effective thing can you do for International Day of Climate Action on Oct. 24. Tim writes:

These themes of resistance to dominant ecological and economic practices within the Bible must be brought into the mix as Christians begin to reflect on our contemporary many-headed ecological crisis.  Listening deeply to these stories and paying attention to the dynamics in which they were formed I think we will find more radical conversation partners than we might have first imagined.  Our present lives in the first world are supported by structures of empire similar to those which our foremothers and fathers in the faith strove to leave or subvert from within. The rapacious practices of consumer capitalism need to be stopped; Sabbath can point towards alternatives which honor the earth and workers through the recognition of natural limits. A whole-earth Jubilee is necessary now more than ever, one which not only brings greater equality between humans but recognizes the inherent worth, beauty, and necessity of non-human species and the ecosystem.  This is perhaps the most important thing which the Christian (and Jewish) tradition at its best can bring to the table: an uncompromising moral vision which can go beneath green washing and eco-capitalist hype to re-present to us the truth which we already know: our lives in the first world need to change drastically for life on this planet to be sustained.

Read Tim’s full post here.

A Rising Tide Lifts All … Death Tolls

Oct 11: Filipino police dig for bodies in La Trinidad, Philippines, after Typhoon Parma.
Oct 11: Filipino police dig for bodies in La Trinidad, Philippines, after Typhoon Parma.

Scientists say that 350 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere is the safe limit for humanity. We are now at 385.92. Not good.

A new report from UCLA scientist Aradhna Tripati says that the last time we were this hot was 20 million years ago – and the seas covered the earth.

Read an excerpt from Tripati’s report below:

“The last time carbon dioxide levels were apparently as high as they are today — and were sustained at those levels — global temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they are today, the sea level was approximately 75 to 120 feet higher than today, there was no permanent sea ice cap in the Arctic and very little ice on Antarctica and Greenland,” said the paper’s lead author, Aradhna Tripati, a UCLA assistant professor in the department of Earth and space sciences and the department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences.

“A slightly shocking finding,” Tripati said, “is that the only time in the last 20 million years that we find evidence for carbon dioxide levels similar to the modern level of 387 parts per million was 15 to 20 million years ago, when the planet was dramatically different.”

Levels of carbon dioxide have varied only between 180 and 300 parts per million over the last 800,000 years — until recent decades, said Tripati, who is also a member of UCLA’s Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics. It has been known that modern-day levels of carbon dioxide are unprecedented over the last 800,000 years, but the finding that modern levels have not been reached in the last 15 million years is new.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the carbon dioxide level was about 280 parts per million, Tripati said. That figure had changed very little over the previous 1,000 years. But since the Industrial Revolution, the carbon dioxide level has been rising and is likely to soar unless action is taken to reverse the trend, Tripati said.

“During the Middle Miocene (the time period approximately 14 to 20 million years ago), carbon dioxide levels were sustained at about 400 parts per million, which is about where we are today,” Tripati said. “Globally, temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer, a huge amount.”

In the last 20 million years, key features of the climate record include the sudden appearance of ice on Antarctica about 14 million years ago and a rise in sea level of approximately 75 to 120 feet.

“We have shown that this dramatic rise in sea level is associated with an increase in carbon dioxide levels of about 100 parts per million, a huge change,” Tripati said. “This record is the first evidence that carbon dioxide may be linked with environmental changes, such as changes in the terrestrial ecosystem, distribution of ice, sea level and monsoon intensity.”

Read the whole article here. And check out the 350 Campaign.

Putting Our Planet Back in the Safety Zone

safety-zoneThe great gospel quintet The Fairfield Four do an old song titled “Standing in the Safety Zone.” The lyrics are roughly, “If you want to get to heaven, oh, you better stand in the safety zone.” A similar sentiment could be said about our planet. If we want to continue to live with the world as God intended, then we’d better learn to live in the safety zone. There are a thousand different factors that are contributing to global climate change, but basically we are fouling our own nest and we need to stop.

(Graphic Above: The inner green shading represents the proposed safe operating space for nine planetary systems. The red wedges represent an estimate of the current position for each variable. The boundaries in three systems (rate of biodiversity loss, climate change and human interference with the nitrogen cycle), have already been exceeded.)

In the days ahead you will be hearing a lot of shouting about climate change. Congress will begin taking on a host of environmental legislation in the late fall. The international climate convention will be held in Copenhagen in December to address the end of the Kyoto agreements (that the U.S. never signed). The coal industry, along with other energy companies, is currently paying and training people to be part of America’s Power Army as a fake grassroots lobbying effort to promote “clean coal” and “safe nuclear energy” and  “balanced energy choices.” They also aim to create “reasonable doubt” in the minds of Americans about the veracity of climate change or the need for industry regulation.

In the middle of all the shouting, it’s important to remember that we need the strongest possible climate change legislation if we are going to protect the world’s vulnerable from starving to death, being driven off their land, or swallowed by rising oceans. The poor of the world are the canary in the global coal mine and they are choking on the waste generated by the U.S. and Europe (but the Europeans are doing something about it).

Here’s an excerpt from a recent Science Daily article titled Scientists Outline ‘Safe Operating Space’ For Humanity.

New approaches are needed to help humanity deal with climate change and other global environmental threats that lie ahead in the 21st century, according to a group of 28 internationally renowned scientists.

The scientists propose that global biophysical boundaries, identified on the basis of the scientific understanding of the earth system, can define a “safe planetary operating space” that will allow humanity to continue to develop and thrive for generations to come. This new approach to sustainable development is conveyed in the current issue of the scientific journal Nature. The authors have made a first attempt to identify and quantify a set of nine planetary boundaries, including climate change, freshwater use, biological diversity, and aerosol loading.

Read the whole article here.

‘Everests of Refuse’ In Our Own Backyard

Garbage in D.C.
Garbage in D.C.

Thanks to Tim Kumfer for his great post over at Always New Depths on Garbage. One lesson we can learn from the “lilies of the field” is to only produce waste that’s compostable!

Here’s a bit of Tim’s post, but read the whole thing and get his Six Ideas (including one on ever-popular Sarah Palin):

My last week in DC, I finally made it to the city’s seedy (and stinky) underbelly of first-world consumerism: the Fort Totten Trash Transfer Station.  I was there to add some of my group house’s IKEA furniture which had outlived its oh-so-short life span.

The scene? Shit. Mountains and mountains of shit, as far as the eye can see. Great Everests of refuse, crushed together by plow trucks and  cranes.

As it turns out, the dystopian future so cutely rendered in WALL-E might not be as far off as I’d hoped. It’s already here; you just have to drive under a bridge  in Brookland to find it.

Read Tim’s complete post here.

And if you like this topic, read Gone Tommorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage by Heather Rogers.

Tielhard de Chardin: A Morning Offering

teilhard-de-chardinI finally picked up a copy of Hymn of the Universe by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955).  I’ve been poking around de Chardin for years, but never actually reading him. He was a French Jesuit, paleontologist, biologist, philosopher, mystic and poet. All the stuff I like!

Here’s a quote from the opening section titled “The Mass on the World,” written while de Chardin was on a scientific expedition in the Ordos desert in Inner Mongolia and celebrates Mass alone at dawn:

One by one, Lord, I see and I love all those whom you have given me to sustain and charm my life. One by one also I number all those who make up that other beloved family which has gradually surrounded me, its unity fashioned out of the most disparate elements, with affinities of the heart, of scientific research and of thought. And again one by one–more vaguely it is true, yet all-inclusively–I call before me the whole vast anonymous army of living humanity; those who surround me and support me though I do not know them; those who come, and those who go; above all, those who in office, laboratory, and factory, through their vision of truth or despite their error, truly believe in the progress of earthly reality and who today will take up again their impassioned pursuit of the light.

Annie Dillard also has a wonderful book called For the Time Being that plays with excerpts from de Chardin’s diaries and writings.

Pirates vs. International Armada


The Somali news outlet WardeerNews is telling a very different story about the “pirates” in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia than what we are hearing in the U.S. news.

There’s no easy answer to dealing with a failed state such as Somalia. The “Somali pirates,” as they are lumped together, are a mix of jihadis, drug dealing gangs, and poor people driven to desperate measures to feed their families. But escalating violence by the international armada is not the right direction, nor will it lead to a lasting solution.

Listening carefully to the complicated factors “on the ground” (or the high seas) and valuing the legitimate grievances present by those on the bottom IS a good direction.

An April 12 op-ed by Muuse Yuusuf writing from Somalia gives context for what’s going on. Here’s an excerpt:

The dumping of toxic and industrial waste in Somalia’s waters is another issue that has not been fully investigated or taken up by the media. However, UN reports indicate that as early as 1990s European companies had been dumping hazardous industrial waste in Somali waters, as this was the cheapest option for them. This is what a UN official has to say about this sensitive issue; “Somalia has been used as a dumping ground for hazardous waste starting about the early 1990s and continuing through the civil war there,” he noted.

“European companies found it to be very cheap to get rid of waste there, costing as little as $2.50 a ton where disposal costs in Europe are something like $250 a ton.  And the waste is many different kinds.  There is lead.  There is heavy metal like cadmium and mercury.  There is industrial waste and there is hospital waste, chemical wastes. You name it,” said Mr. Nuttal, a spokes person for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The Somali news outlet WardeerNews ran an op-ed piece last December titled Piracy in Somalia: An Act of Terrorism or a Territorial Defense Mechanism?.

Their editorial conclusion:

WardheerNews believes that the real solution lays on-shore. Short of reinstating the Somali nation state would successfully solve either the piracy problem at hand or larger terrorist activities which lately became a main stay in Somalia. The world community must articulate a comprehensive strategy to stop the piracy in Somalia without further violating the territorial integrity of Somalia.

Rain Water into Wine?

rain-barrel-blowoutSo … I bought a really nice rain barrel yesterday. Cindy and Kelly from the Rain Barrel Company in Raleigh, North Carolina, dropped it off on their swing through D.C.  It’s made from a recycled Greek olive shipping container. It even has little Greek pictures and words on the side.

NOW what do I do?

I’m trying to figure out how to set it up with the rain spout in a location that is still accessible for filling up the water cans to water the front “postage stamp” vegetal patch.

Somehow all this made more sense in the Central Valley of California when it didn’t rain for months on end.

Do you think this is the kind of barrel Jesus stood over when he changed the water into wine? Hmmm.

McDonough: ‘If Buildings Were Trees …’

I’ve spent the last few days getting an education on “green-collar jobs” and training programs for jump-starting our economy and our environmental sustainability at the same time. I was on a conference call hosted by Policy Link and Green For All about how to get Obama’s “green dollars” into local communities. More than 800 people dialed in to hear the call. I’m also editing articles for the May issue of Sojourners on the green economy.

green-festival-mcdonoughnov-011-cropAll this reminded me about hearing architect and genius Bill McDonough speak at the Green Festival last fall.  (McDonough wrote a great article for Sojourners in May 2005 called Ecology, Ethics, and the Making of Things, drafted from a sermon he gave at St. John the Divine in New York.) I was so intrigued and inspired by his talk that I looked up other presentations he’d given.

The McDonough excerpt below called to mind that strange passage in Mark’s gospel (8:24) when the half-healed blind man says, “I see people as trees, walking.”

What if buildings were alive? What if our homes and workplaces were like trees, living organisms participating productively in their surroundings? Imagine a building, enmeshed in the landscape, that harvests the energy of the sun, sequesters carbon and makes oxygen. Imagine on-site wetlands and botanical gardens recovering nutrients from circulating water. Fresh air, flowering plants, and daylight everywhere. Beauty and comfort for every inhabitant. A roof covered in soil and sedum to absorb the falling rain. Birds nesting and feeding in the building’s verdant footprint. In short, a life-support system in harmony with energy flows, human souls, and other living things. Hardly a machine at all.

This is not science fiction. Buildings like trees, though few in number, already exist. So when we survey the future-the prospects for buildings and cities, settled and unsettled lands-we see a new sensibility emerging, one in which inhabiting a place becomes a mindful, delightful participation in landscape. This perspective is both rigorous and poetic. It is built on design principles inspired by nature’s laws. It is enacted by immersing oneself in the life of a place to discover the most fitting and beautiful materials and forms. It is a design aesthetic that draws equally on the poetics of science and the poetics of space. We hope it is the design strategy of the future.

Read McDonough’s whole article here.